Tangible evidence of snow leopards in North Sikkim found

Posted on
27 January 2016

WWF-India engages with Armed Forces, local communities and the Forest Department of Sikkim for better monitoring and conservation initiatives

NORTH SIKKIM: A pilot effort by WWF-India to set up camera traps in the North Sikkim Plateau to understand the occurrence of snow leopards in the region has yielded results with the first photos of the elusive cat being captured at four different locations in North Sikkim. Earlier interactions with yak herders, known as ‘Dokpas’, had given valuable information on the presence of snow leopards in the high altitudes of North Sikkim area, and these camera trap photographs have now provided the first ever tangible evidence of their existence there.

In addition to snow leopards, the camera traps have also captured other mountain wildlife such as the rare pallas cat, blue sheep and the Tibetan argali. It has also provided visual documentation on  free-ranging dogs and the areas they move in.

The snow leopard, a flagship species of the high altitudes, is a Schedule I animal under the Wildlife Protection Act of India and is listed as ‘endangered’ by the IUCN. Unfortunately, information on the distribution of this elusive cat is scanty ­­– its current range is poorly mapped mainly due to the high and inhospitable terrain.
Since 2006, WWF-India has been working in Jammu & Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim to understand the snow leopard’s status and distribution in India. In Sikkim, the exercise of setting up camera traps began in 2015 under the project ‘Conservation and Adaptation in Asia's High Mountains’. A part of a larger programme funded by USAID in six Asian snow leopard range countries, this project aims at developing climate smart snow leopard conservation plans.

The camera trap study will be implemented across the entire potential distribution range in Sikkim in multiple phases. Several local youths from the village of Lachen who are engaged in this exercise, have been enthused and motivated by the latest findings.

This is the first attempt to fill the vast gaps in knowledge on snow leopards from this important snow leopard habitat. Conservation efforts for these animals in India have so far been largely restricted to the Western Himalayas. The snow leopards in Sikkim are contiguous with its populations in Nepal, making it one of the key habitats for ensuring the animal’s long term survival in the Eastern Himalayas. WWF-India is committed to add to the existing conservation efforts on snow leopards by addressing the knowledge gaps and scaling up successful conservation models.

As part of its plan, WWF-India is using a multifaceted approach of enhancing the ecological understanding of the habitat needs of snow leopards, and engaging with the local communities as stewards of conservation.
Dr. Dipankar Ghose, director of the Species and Landscapes programme, explained, “Addressing retaliatory killing of snow leopards due to livestock depredation, managing the population of free ranging dogs and securing livelihoods of local communities, especially by targeting the community resilience towards climate-induced changes, are the pillars of our conservation efforts in this region.”

Recognizing the need to engage with multiple stakeholders at multiple levels, WWF-India is working with the Indian Armed Forces to raise awareness on the fragile ecology of the Himalayas and involving them in wildlife monitoring programmes. Together with the Lachen Dzumsa and the Lachen Tourism Development Committee, WWF-India is also initiating several natural resource management practices with a strong focus on waste management.  Responsible tourism is being promoted in the region to reduce pressures on the snow leopard habitats.

This intensive camera trap study, expected to be completed by 2017, will provide the first-ever baseline data on the status of snow leopards, their wild prey base, and the threats that the snow leopards face in the state of Sikkim. This information will be useful for formulating a snow leopard conservation management plan for the state under the Project Snow Leopard of the Government of India. It will also be of immense value to the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Program (http://www.globalsnowleopard.org/), with Khangchendzonga being one of the key landscapes for this program.

Rishi Kumar Sharma, Snow Leopard Coordinator, WWF-India, added, “With credible scientific information, WWF-India envisions a future where the snow leopards thrive in the high mountains and the local communities benefit from a resilient and productive ecosystem”. 
For details, contact:
Priya Shreshta
Khangchendzonga Landscape, WWF-India
Email: pshreshta@wwfindia.net
Nitya Kaushik
Senior Manager-Communications, Species and Landscapes, WWF-India,
Phone: +91-11-41504783, Email: nkaushik@wwfindia.net


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